Report: Earthquakes Linked to Less than One Percent of All U.S. Injection Wells

Fewer than one percent of wastewater injection wells across the United States have been potentially linked to induced seismicity, according to a new report by Energy In Depth. The report, entitled “Injection Wells and Earthquakes: Quantifying the Risk,” consults data from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and several peer-reviewed studies to examine the number of injection wells that have been suspected as causing earthquakes, compared against the total number of operating injection wells. The report includes breakout statistics for several states as well, including Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Ohio, Kansas, and Arkansas.

Below are the key findings, by the numbers:

  • Total number of U.S. disposal wells – 40,000 (approx.)
  • Number of U.S. disposal wells potentially linked to seismicity – 218
  • Percentage of U.S. disposal wells potentially linked to seismicity – 0.55%
  • Percentage of disposal wells operating without seismicity – 99.45%
  • Total number of Class II injection wells in the United States – 150,000 (approx.)
  • Percentage of Class II injection wells potentially linked to seismicity – 0.15%
  • Percentage of Class II injection wells operating without seismicity – 99.85%

The report helps to quantify the risk of induced seismicity from underground wastewater disposal, demonstrating that despite prevalent media coverage of each seismic event, the number of wells even potentially linked to earthquakes is comparatively small across the United States. Even in the individual states where most of the attention on induced seismicity has been focused, the vast majority of injection wells are operating aseismically.

In recent years, scientists, regulators, and industry have come together to implement a number of measures to mitigate the risk of induced seismicity, including resource and data sharing to empower states to adopt best practices. Many states have also updated their rules and guidelines for injection well permitting, and companies have spent tens of millions of dollars in mitigation procedures – many of which were voluntary – in order to further reduce risks.

To access the full report, and the state specific fact sheets, click the links below.

Comments

  1. Interesting that the report doesn’t mention the New Mexico Tech paper that found a very high correlation between induced seismicity and position within the rock strata used for injection.

    Their finding was that when the Class II UIC well was completed in a formation immediately above the “basement rock”, the possibility of inducing a seismic event went up dramatically. The basement rock is generally inorganic, very brittle, nearly zero porosity, and quite fractured. This study found that by injecting into the formation in contact with the basement rock the injection energy can sometimes be additive to other overburden forces over a large area and can increase the likelihood of a shift.

    This study also found evidence that leakage from the injection formation into the basement rock had a tendency to lubricate the blocks in stress so that the stress could release at a lower energy level (resulting in more, but smaller earthquakes).

    It would be interesting to see how many of the he 0.55% of UIC Class II wells that could possibly be contributing to have the injection formation adjacent to the basement rock.

    • Big Fat Dave says:

      Energy In Depth was launched by the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) in 2009, they’re totally not biased for carbon burning, they would never filter or slant facts to help Big OIl’s profits at the expense of Americans’ health or civilization’s environmental security. They would definitely invest in clean and renewable energy as much as they could if only the government wasn’t holding them back.

  2. GH says:

    I’m unclear why having over 200 disposal wells and another 225 Class II wells linked to seismic activity is cause for celebration and “business as usual” practice. If a well has the capacity to cause earthquakes, isn’t that cause enough to cease and desist?

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